Content that shows thought leadership is unlike any other type of content.
And here’s how it’s different:
- With “SEO content,” you’re (primarily) trying to drive more search traffic.
- With “product-led content,” your goal is often to get more product sign-ups.
- With customer case studies, you’re creating content to close sales.
But with thought leadership content, you’re creating content to lead or join the conversations your target audience wants to have, showing your expertise, sharing your unique point of view, and ultimately building trust in your brand.
That trust is something most brands need during a recession — largely because buyers are slicing budgets on almost all fronts to adjust to the current situation the world’s in. Case in point: 72% of CFOs want to trim their organization’s real estate footprint by the end of 2022.
Regardless, no matter how much budgets buyers cut, it’s very unlikely they’ll stop spending on products/services they need — because, well, they need them.
But they’ll likely be more careful with their spending as they have to maximize their limited resources. If they trust you, though, they’ll choose you — come rain or shine, recession or boom. And showing thought leadership is a great way to build that trust.
Thought leadership = trust = revenue
Is showing thought leadership the only way to survive in a recession? Maybe not.
But will it help you compete and thrive during the recession? Absolutely.
Because many customers will still need certain products or services no matter what the market is doing.
For instance, I asked two B2B marketing managers which vendors they’d use even if things get tight due to the recession, and I asked them to think of brands they’d choose mostly because their content has impacted them in some way.
These were their responses:
(1) Datapad‘s CMO John Ozuysal:
Of course, there are many other SEO tools out there, and John, like any other marketer, would ultimately have to pick one with the right features and pricing.
But Ahrefs is considered a formidable thought leader in SEO, not only because of their product but also because they publish really good content that positions them as an authority in the industry.
This alone puts them ahead of many of their competitors, to the point that they’re top of mind for John even in a situation where budgets are tight.
(2) LASSO’s VP of growth Drew Brucker:
Is Jack Henry’s content the only reason Drew’s staying a customer? Probably not. Their product has to work and solve the problem he’s buying them for.
But they’re increasing their chances of retaining Drew as a customer by using their content to assure him they’re still committed to making plant-based products, which is what Drew wants from them.
Case in point: here are some of the articles they publish to show customers their commitment:
With every article, they’re letting their expertise shine through, sharing what they know about plant-based products, helping prospects and customers, and building more confidence in their brand.
Bottom line: many of your customers will still be buying during a recession, but if you want them to choose you, they’ll have to trust you first. And you can create that trust.
Customers & their “first-choice vendors”
“First-choice vendors” are brands or thought leaders that often come to mind before other alternatives when you need certain products or services.
For example, if you need a social media scheduling app right now, the “first-choice” vendors that’d probably come to mind are Buffer, Hootsuite, or Sprout Social.
But which one will you pick?
That’s right, you’d like go with the one you have the most confidence in.
And that confidence could be because you’ve heard great things about the brand or you’ve been following their content for a while.
Whatever the case is though, when a customer sees you as a thought leader, you’d often be one of the brands they’ll have on their first-choice vendors list.
That’s what often plays out in many buying processes, and it’s likely going to continue or even heighten in an economic downturn, because the more limited a customer’s resources become…
… the more scrutiny they’d typically apply to their buying process, and the more likely they are to go after vendors they trust.
When I asked Refine Labs’ Lead Brand Marketing Manager, Todd Classer, to share his opinion on this, here’s what he thought:
And Todd points out a critical point there, in most cases, it’s the people in your business that customers really trust, not the company itself.
But what does thought leadership content look like? We’ll address this in the next section.
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What thought leadership content looks REALLY looks like
Thought leadership content can take any shape, form, or style — an article, video, podcast, or any other content format. But what often sets it apart from other types of content is that with thought leadership content, you’re:
- leading conversations about industry-related topics your target customers care about,
- voicing your thoughts on conversations they’re currently having,
- starting a new category your target audience resonates with,
- shaping how they perceive your brand, and ultimately,
- building trust for your business — which, again, is extremely handy during a recession.
To put it simply, with thought leadership content, you’re often pushing some opinion, thought, or idea that’s unique or different from what’s currently on the market.
Here’s one good example from Drift:
You’d likely agree “customer pain points” isn’t a new topic in the B2B space, but Drift took a new angle with it. And that’s what makes this a really good example of thought leadership content.
The author, Sammi Reinstein, a product marketing professional with at least four years of experience in the B2B space, shares three pain points in the article that clearly shows her unique perspectives gained from her experience in the field.
For instance, her first point is about how buyers have to wade through myriads of alternative vendors before picking the one solution they need.
That’s something you’ll hardly find in many other articles on the same topic, and it’s a real pain point when you consider the hundreds or thousands of products out there for any given problem.
What makes this pristine example of what thought leadership content looks like is that it’s not a regurgitation of other articles on the same topic, where basic advice like “do a survey” or “talk to customers” are the norm.
Instead, the author is giving concrete examples of pain points from her real-life experience that the reader can act on today.
Even better, it also shows what buyers want to see in the content they consume: they want to know that the person advising them has been in the field, practicing what they preach, and is giving them credible advice.
I wanted to share one more example here, so I asked Marpipe’s head of content to share a really good example of thought leadership content. Here’s what she thinks:
Jess is right on the money here. The example she’s shared is an article by Amanda Natividad from SparkToro that showcases something genuinely unique from what’s out there in the content marketing space.
And frankly, very few people and brands try to name things or coin new terms in B2B and succeed. Yet, Amanda pulled this one off with hundreds of shares on Twitter alone and thousands of reactions on LinkedIn.
The term “zero-click” is an entirely new term in the content marketing industry, and she did a great job of showing:
- what it is,
- why it’s relevant, and
- how marketers (her audience) should use it.
In the end, she received praise from several hundreds of people who probably now see her as a thought leader in the industry (if they didn’t before).
Next, let’s talk about the “big subject” of selling anything inside content.
Soft-selling inside thought leadership content
Note: soft-selling is simply selling without being overly promotional or salesy.
In many cases, thought leadership content doesn’t only help shape your brand perception. It can also present you the opportunity to soft-sell your business and get you performance-driven results like organic search traffic and leads.
For instance, while we specialize in creating thought leadership articles for our clients here at Premium Content Shop, we always find ways to:
- optimize those SME-driven articles to organically drive relevant search traffic, and
- mention our clients’ products where it’s relevant within their articles.
The outcome we often see is content that not only shows their unique points of view and thought leadership, but also drives relevant traffic and leads for them.
Case in point: a client of ours saw thousands of visitors and over 100 leads (user sign-ups) from about six thought leadership articles we’ve written for them. Here’s a screenshot of analytics from one of the articles, which alone has driven 20 leads so far:
And we’re not the only ones soft-selling inside thought leadership content and seeing these types of results.
When I asked Ashley Faus, Atlassian‘s Director of Integrated Product Marketing, to share an example of thought leadership content she’d seen where the author mentioned their product without being overly promotional, here’s what she said (she shared two examples, but we’re just showing the most relevant one):
Ashley nailed it. She and her team aren’t trying to hard sell their product in their content.
They just collaborate with their internal SMEs and create content about topics their target customers often think and talk about — or in their own words: “free workshop resources for addressing common team challenges and starting important conversations.”
And where they get the chance to showcase their products (especially as templates), they do it without overdoing it.
I didn’t want to ask Ashley to reveal the number of product signups they get from soft-selling their products in some of their content, but I can tell you they get an estimated 52,000 monthly organic visitors on the back of all that thought leadership content:
Of course, traffic isn’t revenue, but when this number of targeted visitors see your content and product every month, revenue usually follows. Ahrefs actually valued that traffic at $52,000/mo — meaning revenue could be around that number.
Bottom line: you can soft-sell inside thought leadership content while also driving search traffic and revenue — you just need to structure and optimize the content in a way that helps you drive those results.
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Where do thought leadership content ideas come from?
There are several ways to get content ideas and demonstrate your thought leadership, but here are two good starting points:
1. What target buyers are thinking/searching/talking about
Your audience is always thinking and talking about something, and there’s almost always at least one topic they’re raving about in industry forums or networks.
For example, one of the trendiest topics in the HR space right now is layoffs. Almost everyone in this field is talking about it.
So, if you’re in that space, it’d be a good idea to share your expert opinions and unique POVs on it, especially if you have real-life experience with it.
You can do it on your company blog (especially if you’re selling an HR-related product), social media, podcasts, Medium, and so on.
Case in point:
Done well, the end result is you get to shape and improve how you and your brand is perceived by stakeholders (customers, partners, and competitors) in your market.
2. What end result(s) customers are looking for
There’s always a reason (end result) for why clients want to use your product. Once you find what that is, you can create content about it.
For example, if you’re selling a product like Hotjar, your target customers have end results like:
- Positive customer reviews,
- High NPS scores,
- Reduced churn,
- And so on.
If you share helpful, unique points of view on these topics, chances are you’ll be getting your target customers’ attention.
So yes, thought leaders will likely survive the recession
And that’s because:
- Buyers will still be buying,
- They’ll choose brands they know and trust before any other business, and
- They’ll trust brands and people they see as thought leaders.
Your next steps:
If you haven’t already done the following, now’s a good time to:
- create a thought leadership strategy
- identify the main topics you want to focus on (and want to be known for)
- start collaborating with internal subject matter experts and extract valuable insights/unique POVs from them on those topics
- use those insight to create content that shows real thought leadership
- drop hints about your product where it matters in your content
And if you need some help with all of the above, our services might be right for you. Learn more here.